The Rise of the Twee

McEwans Lager ad featuring You’ve Got the Power by Win (agency: Collett Dickenson Pearce, 1986)
As an adult, it’s rare to be frightened by an advert. But back in the mid-80s, I remember one TV ad scaring the living shit out of me (shown above). I can recall everything about it: the zombie-like characters, the concept of pushing giant balls up neverending steps and the stirring music that seemed to suit the desolate tone perfectly. It was immersive, gripping and (for me) pretty pant-soiling stuff. But ads don’t employ this aesthetic anymore: they don’t want to scare you. In fact they do the complete opposite – they’re frequently soft, fluffy, handmade-looking things for products that just want to be your friend. And invariably, the choice of music or soundtrack follows suit: arpeggiated acoustic guitar? Check. Softly spoken, whimsical vocals? Check. These are prerequisites in advertising’s obsession with the sound of twee.


McEwans Lager ad featuring You’ve Got the Power by Win (agency: Collett Dickenson Pearce, 1986)

As an adult, it’s rare to be frightened by an advert. But back in the mid-80s, I remember one TV ad scaring the living shit out of me (shown above). I can recall everything about it: the zombie-like characters, the concept of pushing giant balls up neverending steps and the stirring music that seemed to suit the desolate tone perfectly. It was immersive, gripping and (for me) pretty pant-soiling stuff. But ads don’t employ this aesthetic anymore: they don’t want to scare you. In fact they do the complete opposite – they’re frequently soft, fluffy, handmade-looking things for products that just want to be your friend. And invariably, the choice of music or soundtrack follows suit: arpeggiated acoustic guitar? Check. Softly spoken, whimsical vocals? Check. These are prerequisites in advertising’s obsession with the sound of twee.

The most recent ads to employ this technique are part of a campaign that’s cemented communications company Orange as providers of the mobile tariff that’s most likely to be your pal when the others let you down. The latest spot features a typical folksy-cum-spoken word tune that plays out over lots of brightly coloured pop-up scenery (all quite nice, admittedly) and a cutesy lady who actually skips towards the camera before her lovely face is obscured (oh no!) by a giant green sign. But – don’t worry – she side steps this with a final coquettish angling of the head – she’s so ditzy! Watch it here.

So with this spot currently doing the rounds on UK TV (along with a version with an equally happy chap in it, see below) we wondered where this craze for cute began. The following are thus all examples of a recent phenomenon that has shamelessly capitalised on the popularity of the tender sort of singer-songwriter over the last few years. Nu-Folk, Alt-Folk, whatever… there’s undeniably some great new music out there (Kings of Convenience, Cat Power, Joanna Newsom et al) but, really, once you’ve heard one of these plink-plonky, quirky-by-numbers tunes playing over a film of plink-plonky, quirky-by-numbers young and attractive types, the ads all begin to seem so achingly similar…


This recent Orange ad features that spoken way of singing that gets really quite annoying


An earlier Orange spot featuring Devendra Banhart’s Little Yellow Spider


Orange’s Black Out ad, featuring Joanna Newsom’s This Side of the Blue


Hovis ad featuring warmly nostalgic scratchy film and the track, Gold, by Charlie Morgan


T Mobile’s Flext ad from last year featuring the ressurected Vashti Bunyan with her song
Diamond Day. I really think she might be responsible for all this


Silent Night ad featuring Mushaboom (cute huh?) by Feist

And now PowerGen are in on the act with their brand new ad, Go Greener: The Power of Nature! It’s acoustic, it’s got whistling in it for Christ’s sake – but I guess that means the world just got a little bit healthier? Thanks PowerGen! Watch their ad here, then go and put on some Doom Metal with the curtains drawn. And get your hands on a can of McEwan’s.

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